Do-It-Yourself Bear Baiting

by Patrick Meitin

I’ve always found it interesting how those with the strongest opinions generally lack any hands-on experience with the target of their attack. This seems especially true of baiting bears, a Pollyanna quickly labeling it unsportsmanlike behavior. Yet, even the fully-guided bait hunt, so seemingly devoid of skill, comes at a price well beyond obvious hunt fees. If you’ve been there you understand and I needn’t explain further. If you’ve not, carp to me only after you’ve given it a fair shake. On the other hand, bear baiting without professional assistance becomes a different game altogether. Bear baiting successfully is back-breaking, time-consuming work.

A Bait Barrell Allows Your Bait to be Conserved
A bait barrell allows your bait to last longer because bears have to work to get to it.

Start Up

Baiting bear in the times we live in requires living or traveling to a state allowing the practice. Canadian citizens and Alaska residents have it made, the rest of us restricted to limited western and far northern states where anti-hunters haven’t forced their whims on an unsuspecting and uninformed populace. A few western states allow Spring hunting, while eastern bowhunters must work within Fall dates.

The most agreeable baiting experiences require desolation. Avoiding popular hiking trails, campgrounds and fishing areas minimizes non-hunting (even anti-hunting) intrusion. A secret spot is preferable for these issues alone, but also assures uninterrupted hunts and also detours competition. Packing bait farther from roads or ATV trails is the best way to accomplish these goals. An ATV is extremely handy, allowing use (where legal) of defunct logging roads inaccessible by even rugged SUVs.

Fine Points

When setting up initially seek tracks and droppings along ridges, trails or at water, helping you discern population densities, but also trophy quality. Four- to 4 ½-inch-wide front-pads reveal average bears, five inches or better suggest behemoths. The best locations generally involve a healthy combination of thick escape cover and available water, but sites where scent’s easily controlled is most important. No matter where you place bait bears will find it given time, though with limited time you must assure bait’s discovered nearly immediately. A bait site productively employed last season assures nearly instant attention, bears see to make these places a regular part of their rounds.

Bruins’ olfactory senses rival even that of whitetail. Don’t believe human scent you leave while setting up and working baits desensitizes your quarry, as they have an uncanny ability to sniff out intruders. Depend on topography and prevailing winds to carry scent away from your site. Look for sites with steeply-falling points or edges, placing baits on a flat bench, your stand down a severe drop where breezes are carried into open space well above the ground below. This also places you, even if 45 feet up a tree, on the level with your target for better shot angles.

Feeding Success

Spring bears are hungry bears, looking to put on weight lost after hibernation. To make baiting affordable (you’re normally facing a hefty fuel bill while working baits as well) some creativity is in order to keep bears interested. Bears have an uncontrollable sweet tooth, but will also scarf anything that helps pack on pounds. Cheap dog kibble is relatively affordable filler which bears happily devour -- especially sprinkled liberally with used fry grease (begged from gas-station deli or fast-food managers) and/or feed-store molasses. Day-old bakery goods are an obvious staple; especially sugary donuts bought cheaply from bakery distribution warehouses or outlet stores. I’m not above midnight “dumpster diving,” gathering discarded fried chicken, pizza and such from trash receptacles squatted behind fast food chains. I’ve also managed to score meat scraps and expired fruit from grocers. During fall, gathering unwanted apples from road-side trees provides plenty of free bait that bears relish.

Spring bowfishing is an excellent way to jumpstart bait sites. Non-game carp or suckers (check regulations to assure legality) “aged” in a hot sun create a powerful stink, also drawing crows and ravens that attract bears. Tossed in the freezer and served fresh, many bears eat them outright. Too, in northern latitudes befriend a trapper, coaxing him to save beaver carcasses throughout winter months. Bears everywhere love beaver meat. Aromatic oils such as anis, cinnamon and vanilla can also perk bears’ interests, poured over punky stumps or logs to hold scent longer.

Setting A Black Bear Bait
Here a bait is set without a bait container

How you distribute bait depends on available time and how often you’ll run baits. When camped on site, making a single expedition of it, piling bait in a log “crib” or against a stump to help position bears for viable shots is viable. Stack sizable logs atop bait to deter crows and ravens, soaking these with grease or molasses, keeping bears busy should they find bait exhausted.  If you're a lucky hunter that is either close to your bait site or has a great deal of time to pursure these bruins a container may not be necessary (check local regulations).

I prefer 55-gallon barrels with secure lids. Torching an 8-inch circle in the lid forces bears to fish for food and slows consumption. Through a bottom corner cut holes and attach six feet of stout 3/8-inch steel cable, securing a loop with clamps. Create another loop on the opposite end and add a locking carabineer. This allows securing the barrel to a tree to keep it from disappearing into the bush, and anchors feeding bears within range. More pointedly, a large, secured barrel requires less frequent visits – keeping hungry bears satisfied while you work to earn your weekend getaway, or simply lowering fuel costs on distantly-located baits. Laws sometimes dictate what can be used to contain bait (even how big they can be), so read regulations carefully.

 

Big Black Bear Laying in the Bait
This bait certainly didn't take long to get hit!  (see photo above)

In better habitats it’s common to discover baits hit the night they’re placed, but generally the longer they sit, the better they produce. Even off-limits sows with cubs track away alluring food trails, reeling wandering bears into your site. Getting baits placed as early as legally permissible is beneficial even if you’re schedule doesn’t allow hunting right away. Late May is a prime Spring month at most latitudes for both action and prime pelts, though June breeding seasons typically bring the biggest boars out of the woodwork. Understand, though, you’re walking a fine line between waiting a behemoth and risking rubbed hides that late. Fall can make baiting more hit and miss, especially when natural foods are readily available. Still, you can expect action due simply to the fact bruins are gorging greedily for winter hibernation and seldom pass up a free meal.

Baiting bear on your own is a huge commitment in time and hard work. While even the fully outfitted bear hunt is an exciting and exotic adventure, baiting your own bears comes with a higher degree of self accomplishment and pride. It’s not for everyone, but for me it’s just about as rewarding and exciting as bowhunting North America gets.

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Russell, MB
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